The Architecture of Containment: Towards a Marcusan Hermeneutics of the House We Just Bought

Phil Ford

I’m back. And we bought a house! Behold:


It’s a ranch built in 1954, the year of the McCarthy-Army hearings, where Tailgunner Joe finally overreached and imploded. And as you can clearly see, the logic of the McCarthy era is manifested in the breezeway. Not a true porch, it mimes the gestures of interiority remembered (with regressive and compensatory nostalgia) from an earlier time even as true interiority is abolished. Like the well-loved screened porches of the 1930s foursquare, the breezeway here encourages one to “set a spell,” perhaps with a frosty mint julep in hand and puppies gambolling on the wide lawn. But the architecture encodes a grim simulacrum of sociability: it is not screened-in, and its shallow draught, while encouraging the illusion that one might truly sit and enjoy oneself in a way possible in the progressive era of 1930s, really serves only to allow the homeowner to walk between his car and the front door without getting wet in the rain. The house subtly prioritizes the new axis of cold war sociality — consumerism. The home has become a machine for enabling consumption: it enhances the newly symbiotic relationship between the consumer and his automobile, allowing him to carry the many newly-acquired purchases he now feels he needs to maintain his affluent lifestyle in such a way as to insulate him from the vestiges of nature his tract development has not entirely succeeded in repressing. All the while, the breezeway places a fig-leaf over the unmentionable truths of cold war life. The sad thing is that the homeowner will be blind to the overtones of domination implicit in his breezeway, and might truly think that his house is “just a house.” In this he will find the ready collusion of liberal critics, who may complain that such a critique misses the point, that a house is just “a place to live.” But the house is ideological through and through. It is irredeemably stamped with the hegemonic logic of the cold war.

Kidding! Everything I wrote in the previous paragraph is complete bullshit, except for the part about our house being built in 1954. It was fun to write, though.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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4 Responses to The Architecture of Containment: Towards a Marcusan Hermeneutics of the House We Just Bought

  1. Jonathan says:

    SAVE THAT PARAGRAPH! High satire of the filligree of academic pretension is a meeting, or book, or website waiting to happen. I suspect we may all want to use pseudonyms, but still. Welcome back, and congratulations on the house!

  2. Rebecca M says:

    Phew. Excellent bit of satire. And I am glad it was indeed satire. The hair was standing up on the back of my neck.

  3. sally tract says:

    Nice to know you were “just kidding” with the over-analysis of the 1954 tract home; sometimes a house is just a house, and that’s it. Don’t let your skittishness about McCarthy and the Cold War let you lose track of the American optimism of the time, with an economy humming along (even with 90% tax brackets at th etop). The U.S. was a distinctly less rich country than today (look at typical square footage of the average new home), yet people were pleased with what they had and sought a distinctive postwar architecture (rather than something that endlessly borrows from the past).
    Hey, I hope the house works out well for you. It may have drywall, but I’ll bet it’s got real 2x6s, 2x8s, 2x10s, etc. and not “engineered lumber,” and that it looks at least as good now as today’s McMansions will in 50+ years.
    alive in 1954

  4. Guidonia says:

    This was great. Thanks for the laugh.

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